MGWCC #634

crossword 3:21 
meta 3:45 


hello and welcome to episode #634 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Foursquare”. for this week 4 puzzle (but intended at week 3 difficulty), the instructions tell us that the answer is a four-letter adjective. okay. what are the theme answers? there aren’t obviously theme answers among the longest answers in the grid, but it’s clear something funky is happening at the corners, since an extra letter is needed outside the grid to fit in the correct answers to these clues:

  • in the upper left, {Missouri River metropolis} MAHA should be OMAHA, and {1978 disco hit with its own dance} MCA should be YMCA.
  • in the upper right, {Full of noise and activity} ABUZ should be ABUZZ and {Prague tongue} ZECH should be CZECH.
  • in the lower left, {Jordan’s capital} MMAN should be AMMAN. {Person others take advantage of} CHUM, while actually not a totally invalid answer for that clue, is more aptly CHUMP. strangely, CHUM kinda works in multiple ways: either in the sense of CHUM as in a friend who might take advantage of your friendship, or in the sense of CHUM being bait for fishing and thus metaphorically somebody who might be used as bait.
  • in the lower right, {Standard chorus syllables} TRAL should be TRALA and {Event with slashed prices} SAL should be SALE.

so none of this was particularly difficult—all of those clues were straightforward, even if the extra letters were in some sense unchecked. but what about the meta answer? the extra letters outside the grid spell out YCOZAAPE in reading order, or YCZAEPAO in clockwise order. that doesn’t look helpful at all. but ah, what about the title? foursquare suggests looking at 2×2 squares—and indeed, a study of the grid finds that each of our corners, with three out of four squares filled in, exactly matches one 2×2 box within the rest of the grid:

  • the upper left corner, _Y/OM, can be found where 23- and 28-across meet 3- and 24-down. the missing letter is B.
  • the upper right corner, C_/ZZ, can be found where 15- and 18-across meet 7- and 8-down. the missing letter is O.
  • the lower left corner, AM/_P, can be found where 59- and 66-across meet 48- and 61-down. the missing letter is X.
  • the lower right corner, LA/E_, can be found where 49- and 51-across meet 32- and 33-down. the missing letter is Y.

taken in order, the four new corner letters spell BOXY, an apt four-letter adjective that’s the answer to the meta.

in an elegant touch, the four 2×2 boxes within the grid are symmetrically placed. that’s a nice capper to a very slick meta, quite unlike any mechanism i’ve seen before. it’s not terribly difficult—you can’t really help but put the extra letters outside the grid to fit the clues, and then once you’ve done that, the title pretty strongly hints at the next step—but it was original and fun. about the only thing i didn’t like about it was the reliance on not-great crossword answers ABUZZ and TRALA.

bits & pieces:

  • {Computer programmer’s tool} FUZZY LOGIC. i am somewhat familiar with FUZZY LOGIC as a concept, but the clue struck me as inapt—computer programmers are much, much more likely to use classical boolean logic, which is the opposite of fuzzy logic.
  • {Words spoken before committing a no-no} I’M BAD. in my experience, this is much more commonly spoken after committing some kind of error.
  • {2020 biopic with Ethan Hawke in the title role} TESLA. hadn’t heard of this movie. 2020 is a tough year for the film industry.
  • {Fabric made of yarn} BOUCLE (or, as i’ve just learned from looking it up, actually BOUCLÉ). this was a new word to me.
  • {Public address of a sort} OPEN LETTER. that’s a good use of long fill right there. likewise {“Stop kidding yourself!”} GET REAL. no scrabbly letters or anything flashy, but two really nice in-the-language phrases that strongly evoke particular mental images.

that’s all for me. how’d you like this one?

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22 Responses to MGWCC #634

  1. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 453 correct answers this week, exactly 100 fewer than Week 2. So if you have a time machine then this was a good Week 3 entrywise, and now we can move on to Week 5 as though nothing unusual had happened.

    Now that I see your comment, I think we both had it wrong — you say “I’m bad!” not before or after the no-no, but *during* it!

  2. C. Y. Hollander says:

    Towards the end of the submission period, a new name showed up on the leaderboard, “boxy”. I figure that was most likely an accident caused by entering the answer in the text field that was meant for the name, but I’m a little surprised that Matt let it through. I wonder if it inspired any successful guessing.

    • Wayne says:

      It inspired me to look at past weeks to see if a little elf had been leaving us clues all along. I didn’t see any other examples, so you’re probably right about it being an accident.

    • Jim S says:

      I’ve done that in the past and reached out to Matt to replace the meta answer with my name, so I can confirm that submitters screw it up sometimes, it does make it through, and Matt can clean it up if notified.

      • Gwinns says:

        +1 — Abigail Adams showed up on the leaderboard a couple weeks ago, and was promptly removed when I called attention to it in the Notes box when I submitted. Apparently someone is getting their boxes confused!

  3. Susie says:

    I appreciated an easier one this week, since I missed last week. Hope it doesn’t give me false confidence for a week 5!

  4. Margaret says:

    This is a case where solving online was not helpful. I inserted all four letters in each of the corner squares (OM and YM for example) and couldn’t work my way out of those boxes even though I scribbled notes on a separate piece of paper. I should have printed the puzzle on paper, maybe then those 2 x 2 matches would have been noticeable. Or maybe not lol.

    • David Harris says:

      I usually solve in AcrossLite, then take a screenshot of the full puzzle—grid+clues—to work on in photo editor with notes. It often looks like serial killer manifestos by the end with all my nonsensical dead ends in different colors, but it can help with spotting stuff like this.

  5. Jim S says:

    Ugh. I had the extra 8 letters and knew we needed to get down to 4, so I tried math. If you take the alphabet positions of each of the extra letters – Y=25, O=15, etc. – then (arbitrarily) subtract the values in the corners, you get 10, 23, 15, and 4. Each of those squares in the grid is an ‘A’ – that can’t (but is!) a coincidence. Four As certainly invokes the Aces in a deck of cards, and “aces” can be an adjective – “You’re aces in my book, kid”. Oof.

  6. Archie says:

    The extra letters at the NE and NW corners may be anagrammed to form “cozy”, a four-letter adjective. Why can this not be considered a correct answer, if we dis count the SE and SW corners as red herrings?

    • joon says:

      the short answer is that there is no logical reason to discount half the theme as red herrings. that’s just not how these things work. if you see something that does not happen in ordinary crossword puzzles, that something must be part of the meta mechanism. you can’t selectively ignore bits of the actual theme.

    • Amanda says:

      It wouldn’t make sense to skip half the clues.

    • Mike says:

      Also, Matt almost always has the answer “fit” in some way. I saw COZY too, but it didn’t fit in with the title or anything else. If what you come up with doesn’t “click” you’re probably not on the right track.

  7. Rand says:

    I initially supposed that each “forked” corner — with the addition of one letter — would form a word, and that those four added letters would, in turn, form the meta answer. I was essentially trying to jump from Step 1 to Step 3 without figuring out the intended Step 2: i.e., find the four corners replicated within the grid. (Drat!)

  8. Garrett says:

    I thought it was a thing of beauty.

    It could be made harder by avoiding the use of double letters in the corner. There was only one other place in the grid with ZZ, and with the adjacent C and the title — pretty much a gimme on how to get started.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Well I did that on purpose — I thought that at least one of the four patterns of three given letters should stand out.

      • Garrett says:

        Oh, I thought the difficulty level was just right. I’m recognizing that it could have been more difficult, especially as this is a novel approach!

      • Streroto says:

        Well thanks Matt! That’s the one that tipped me off right away also!

  9. Lee Sammons says:

    I got that each corner was missing a letter so I found a letter for each that made a new word: B U C K which is only an adjective in the sense of Buck Naked. Luckily I got caught up in a Zoom meeting and didn’t submit.

  10. Amy L says:

    I missed the clever placement of the letters and just looked for boxes with three of the four letters. Right next to the bottom AMXP block is an MEPA block. It had the M+P+A so I thought it had to be right, except that it gave me OBEY. For a long time, I tried to figure out how OBEY was an adjective. Eventually, I realized something must be wrong and found the X.

    The ZZ was definitely my in to the solution.

  11. jefe says:

    I liked how the inner boxes were all just CCW from the corner boxes, as well as the rotated-square look of the grid.

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